petite anglaise

August 6, 2006

home

Filed under: city of light, missing blighty — petiteanglaise @ 1:36 pm

London is one long ride on an interminable escalator, mopping my brow and frowning at the chunky A-Z, wondering how it is possible for many of my destinations to be so very far removed from metro tube stations.

It is struggling to remember to “KEEP LEFT” in corridors and on staircases which are neatly divided into two halves. Keeping my expensive travelcard handy for when I leave every station to avoid awkward, embarrassing fumbling; a wave of homesickness for my Navigo card and its comforting “DRIINNG!” welling up as the alien “PIINNG!” of Oyster cards echoes in my ears.

In Paris, leaning over the edge of a platform to squint along the tunnel, I can often spy the lights of the next station, and sometimes make out the next one after that. A station is never more than a short stroll away.

I drag my overnight bag along residential streets, plastic wheels rumbling noisily over uneven paving slabs, glancing at my watch periodically to see if I am late enough to warrant making a breathless, apologetic phone call.

I am pathetically grateful to whoever had the foresight to paint helpful hints on the tarmac at every pedestrian crossing, prompting me to “LOOK RIGHT!” or “LOOK LEFT!”, rather than trusting my (apparently continental) instincts and stepping out into the path of a rapidly approaching black cab.

It is in my native land that I am truly a fish out of water: panting, helplessly disorientated, yearning for the familiarity of my French home.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Later, back in the village where I grew up, I creep into my daughter’s bedroom, craving the familiar scent of her warm curls, her damp scalp.

She is unexpectedly awake, sitting up in bed with a welcoming smile. I cover her cheeks with kisses.

“Mummy,” she asks, “are you going to sleep in your bed today?”

“Yes my love,” I reply, “so you can come and fetch me when you wake up in the morning.”

She pauses for a moment; I can almost see her thinking.

“Mummy? Have you got a sleeping bag like mine?”

“No. Mummies don’t usually wear sleeping bags.”

“When I will be a mummy and you will be a little girl, I can lend you this one,” she says generously, gesturing down at her pink gingham pod.

I find this notion of role reversal strangely comforting.

Later, against my better judgement, I slip into the single bed, beside her oblivious sleeping form and let the regularity of her breathing slow my rapidly thumping heart.

June 16, 2006

eurostarlet

Filed under: missing blighty — petiteanglaise @ 9:00 am

On the occasion of my trip to London this weekend – a trip which makes me a very excited girl indeed as I will get to see lots of my favourite people AND eat gourmet fish and chips AND go to Top Shop – I am going to go cold turkey and not lay fingers to keyboard for three whole days.

In my absence, I leave you in the capable hands of my mum, who has kindly offered to moderate comments in my absence.

Soyez sage!

January 19, 2006

apprehensive

Filed under: good time girl, mills & boon, missing blighty — petiteanglaise @ 4:51 pm

This weekend, I will be meeting the “friends” referred to below. The very idea of this meeting has me in a turmoil.

extract from email from Lover, May 2005

“When I went back to England last month, I was moaning to my friends about Mad French Bird. As they are all nearing or indeed at 40 and in stable conventional relationships, none of them could see what on Earth my problem was with dating a mixed-up 22-year old. Eventually, I said “Look, the person that I REALLY like, the person that I feel completely compelled to, is someone I’ve never seen, who lives in Paris and has a partner and a child. I don’t know her name or what she looks like, but (…) I can’t get her out of my head.”

It is less than a year later, and by some bizarre twist of interweb fate we have been together for several months now. No twenty-two year old is any match for a petite anglaise with her glad rags on.

So, why the inner turmoil? So far, those of Lover’s friends I have met in France have all been lovely people, which bodes well. I do not doubt we will be in very good company.

What’s more, I am really looking forward to getting to know Lover better, as tongues do tend to be loosened by alcohol, and, with luck, some interesting stories about his schooldays in Sheffield will emerge over the course of the evening. And it’s always revealing to see a person in a new context. We all behave differently depending on who we are with, do we not? Among our oldest friends, we get back to the basics of who we really are.

The very Englishness of the weekend is also appealing, as curry and/or fish and chips and/or a full English breakfast are bound to be on the menu. An opportunity to worship at the altar of The Holy Grease. Not to be sniffed at.

But, despite all these positives, I appear to be rather nervous. This I know because when packing for a weekend away, I do not generally make a habit of trying on the entire contents of my wardrobe in front of a full-length mirror. It’s one thing being anxious about making a good impression (and striving to minimise the impression made by my disproportionately large rear, lest it steal all the limelight), but this level of panic (a code red alert) seems a little excessive, even to me.

I’ll admit to being slightly apprehensive that I won’t be able to take the pace (being woefully out of practice at drinking in pubs, all evening long, standing up) and a little uneasy at the prospect that, a few drinks into the evening, I might be an embarrassment, or a little too lairy.

But there are bigger issues here. Will I be a disappointment in some way? How do I compare with the ex-wife that they all knew so well, or the terrifyingly sexy girlfriend who helped him pick up the pieces, post-divorce? One of the most attractive things about an older man is that he knows who he is, and is comfortable in his own skin. The flipside of that coin is that he is bound to have some pretty weighty baggage; excess baggage, which in an airport would cost you dearly. And so I must deal with the ghosts of wives and girlfriends past.

Last, but not least, there is the small matter of the situation I was in when we met, as evidenced by the phrase: “who lives in Paris and has a partner and a child”. Our relationship was born out of the ruins of another. There was all kinds of fallout involved. I have taken my child away from her father, and plan to uproot us both next summer, in order to be with him. When I meet a friend of his for the first time, I sometimes wonder: are his friends simply happy for him, or do they feel slightly uncomfortable with how it all came about? Will they be judging me (as some of my commenters do)?

As usual, my mind is working overtime, creating problems, amplifying things out of all proportion.

If it wasn’t for the fact that I want to be cremated when that time comes, I think the phrase “petite anglaise – she thought too much” would have made a fitting epitaph.

November 7, 2005

firestarter

Filed under: missing blighty, Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaise @ 1:54 pm

“We’re going to see lights flying in the sky. Very noisy lights, that go whizz! and weee! and BANG!

“BANG!” repeats Tadpole, waving her arms enthusiastically and managing to elbow me in the chin in the process.

I realise that it is not easy to describe fireworks to a two year old without performing a variety of sound effects, and regret the fact that I didn’t choose to do so in the privacy of my own home.

Painfully aware of the taxi driver eying me incredulously in the rear view mirror, I decide an explanation might be in order, for his benefit.

“Mummy calls the light fireworks, in English. And in French they are called feu d’artifice,” I say, in my best educator’s voice.

Feu n’artifice! Feu n’artifice!” shrieks the resident parrott.

I thank my lucky stars that this year Tadpole is too young for an explanation of why the effigy of a man called Mr Fawkes is being burned, somewhat barbarically, on a bonfire.

We alight at the British Embassy and make our way to the garden, where the fun and festivities are to take place; I put down my mulled wine and busy myself sending a text message to the very kind reader/embassy employee who invited Tadpole and I to the annual bonfire party, to announce our arrival.

Small children race across the lawn in the semi-darkness, squealing with excitement at being allowed to stay up after bedtime. Tadpole, almost invisible in her black coat, proves almost impossible to keep track of. My insistent pleas to “stay near mummy” fall on deaf ears, and every few minutes I am forced to interrupt my conversation and set off in search of my errant daughter. To think that I used to take for granted the fact that I could look someone in the eye while having a conversation and actually finish my sentences. Those days are, sadly, long gone.

Only bribery in the form of unhealthy foodstuffs provides Tadpole with an incentive to spend a little time with mummy, and I am pathetically grateful to the kind ladies on the barbecue stall for their array of toddler taming quavers, hot dogs and curly wurlies.

When the firework display begins, Tadpole darts over to the mesh fence which has been used to section off the onlookers from the bonfire, and throws her head back, roaring with delighted, slightly deranged sounding laughter. The child is most definitely not afraid. I drop to her level and we make the obligatory “ooh” and “aah” sounds in unison.

For the remainder of the weekend, whenever my daughter talks about the fireworks (approximately once every hour), there is a frightening glint in her eyes, which I have only seen once before (when my mother in law evoked her weekly trips to the town casino).

I try to convince myself that by attending the display, I have not unwittingly sown the seeds of pyromania.

September 20, 2005

exit Mrs Frog

Filed under: missing blighty — petiteanglaise @ 12:32 pm

My life is no longer quite so French as it was.

Exit croissants, baguettes and warm goats cheese salads. These days I seem to be mostly eating granary toast with marmalade, bacon (admittedly the streaky, French version which is distressingly inferior) sandwiches with ketchup or HP sauce, or tucking into a nice piece of mature cheddar with some Branston pickle. On my last trip to Yorkshire, I returned with a suitcase bulging with the best that Tesco had to offer. Including 240 teabags.

Exit French cable TV, which for a princely sum currently offers only one decent programme in English per week (Desperate Housewives, at long last), and enter slightly illegal Sky TV at the weekends, so that I can indulge my fondness for BBC2 comedy or Channel 4 drama. And regale Tadpole with such delights as Bob the Builder in version originale. She now squawks “Can we fix eet?” every time she spies a digger.

It feels like by leaving Mr Frog for my English Lover, I have taken one more step away from my original aim: becoming “almost French”.

I wrote last year about how my initial enthusiasm for all things French, which had begun in my first French lesson at Mill Mount Grammar School for girls at the age of 11, and culminated in my moving to Paris in September 1995, had started to wane perceptibly. Where once I had watched indiscriminately whatever was broadcast on French terrestrial TV to “improve my French”, read only French novels and eaten only French food, as a matter of principle, I suddenly found myself yearning for English language and culture.

Clearly I was experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

It was time, I decided, to cut myself some slack. Living in France didn’t have to mean total assimilation, and indeed, if I didn’t watch out, my mother tongue would ultimately suffer. “Target language deprivation,” as a commenter helpfully pointed out, is a very real phenomenon, and can result in expats speaking a dreadful bastardised version of their mother tongue after a few years away from the mothership. To combat this, I signed up for cable TV and bought English books from W H Smiths. And binged on English culture. I even watched Eastenders religiously for a number of years, although, thankfully, I have now managed to kick that unfortunate habit.

The next step was changing my job, and I swapped a Franco-French office where I had never really felt anyone knew the “real me” for an English company where two thirds of the staff were British, and we all went for beers on Fridays.

Despite all this, at the end of the day, I still came home to a French partner, and socialised with his French friends.

Nowadays all that has changed, and I am faced with the delightful prospect of renovating a crumbling farmhouse, with a huge satellite dish perched atop the roof, greedily hoovering English television from the airwaves, in the British enclave that is Brittany. Eating English breakfasts with my English Lover, and washing it all down with cup upon cup of PG tips.

Somehow, if I ever do get my papers together and apply for French nationality, I rather think the fonctionnaires will laugh in my English face.

August 9, 2005

domestic goddess

Filed under: missing blighty, Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaise @ 8:48 pm

Odd things have been afoot in my kitchen.

Over the past two weeks, while my Lover was in town, I changed beyond all recognition. First, I started cooking proper meals (on the nights when Lover didn’t cook for me, I hasten to add, although I never managed to persuade him to cook only wearing an apron, despite much pleading), as opposed to scoffing Tadpole’s spurned fish fingers and sweetcorn, followed by a few crisps or other unhealthy snacks, and washed down with a glass of wine in front of the computer, which is what my diet habitually consists of.

Mr Frog and I didn’t tend to eat together, so I had abandoned my non-wifely kitchen duties long, long ago. Largely because I ate hours earlier, unable to stave off the hunger pangs until he arrived home from work around 10 pm.

But, not only did I cook proper dinners for the past fortnight, but I also found myself baking. Custart tart. Scones. A rather tasty quiche. Carrot cake with cream cheese topping. All very English. In keeping with the extraordinary volume of tea which I was drinking.

Now, I’ve always been a firm believer in the old adage that the surest route to a man’s heart is through his trousers, and emphatically not via his stomach, so I simply don’t know where all of this domestic goddesshood has welled up from.

The bakefest will have to cease, as my waistline is already suffering, but before I turn the page on this worrying episode, I just wanted to share the fruits of my labour with the internet.

I made shortbread biscuits, in honour of Tadpole’s return. We decorated them together.

Do be careful not to drool on your keyboards.

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